November 17, 2010

CAG heat on 25 Delhi schools for fee hike

Parents protesting against the sudden hike in tuition fee across private schools in Delhi on account of the Sixth Pay Commission have been vindicated.

A tell-all audit report of 25 unaided schools submitted recently by the Comptroller Audit General of India (CAG) corroborates the gnawing suspicion among parents that the fee hike was indeed unjustified.

According to the report - that was submitted to the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary of Education and the Lieutenant Governor in the first week of November - several sought- after institutions should not have footed the bill of salary arrears to the parents as they had adequate reserve funds to pay the increased remuneration of teachers.

Thirteen out of the 25 institutions audited by CAG were found guilty of burdening parents and these include prestigious names (see box) such as Delhi Public School, R. K. Puram, Amity International School, Saket, Air Force Bal Bharti School, Lodhi Road, Mount Carmel School, Anand Niketan, St. Xavier's School, Raj Niwas Marg, Sadhu Vaswani School, Presentation Convent Sr. Sec School, St.Mary's School, Mayur Vihar and G. D. Goenka School, Vasant Kunj.

There are a total of 1,211 private schools in Delhi. The 25 schools were randomly selected covering six districts of the Capital and have been audited for the period from April 2006 to March 2009. The audit, which has been conducted in the context of a Recent Public Interest Litigation filed with the Delhi High Court on the issue of fee hike, is a first of many to come.

CAG report finds the hike unjustified

The report states: "All these (13) schools had free reserves, which as per directions, should have been utilised first to pay the salary arrears from January 2006 to August 2008.

However, the school management first collected tuition fee from students to the maximum permissible extent and then utilised their free reserves… to meet balance liability. These schools, thus, unauthorisedly collected ` 13.08 crore and placed avoidable burden on parents." Delhi Public School, RK Puram, for instance, collected salary arrears over Rs 2.5 crore even though it had a reserve fund of more than Rs 15 crore at its disposal as of March 2008.

Summer Fields School in Kailash Colony, on the other hand, had its students pay arrears of up to Rs 95 lakh when it had close to Rs 5 crore in its reserve fund.

"I was there at the time of the audit and the observations made by the CAG are completely correct. I, too, had objected to a fee increase when the school had adequate funds to meet the hike in salaries.

"Parents were being footed the bill to meet the needs of the owners. But education today has become a commercial commodity," said a former principal of popular school in South Delhi, who did not wish to be identified.

The Principals of Delhi Public School, R. K. Puram, St.Xavier's School and Amity International School, Saket, could not be reached despite repeated attempts. D. M Sharma, director, GD Goenka, did not wish to comment on the issue as he was out of town.

The CAG, however, has also pinned the responsibility of such gross violation on the Delhi government. "The (education) department did not fulfill its obligation to get the accounts of unaided school duly audited… due to weak governance by the DOE the schools continued to enhance fees despite having surplus funds," the report states.

November 14, 2010

Parents to drag AP to court

Nov. 13: Annoyed that the state government has done nothing to control the high fees being charged by private schools, parents’ associations have decided to file a contempt of court case against the government, as the Andhra Pradesh High Court has ruled in favour of fee regulation in private schools in August this year.

Parents’ associations of CBSE, ICSE, Central Schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas joined hands on Saturday to form the AP Parents Associations’ Coordination Committee (APPACC), a broader platform to fight against indiscriminate fee hikes. 

The committee vowed not to pay the increased fees till the state government comes out with a regulatory mechanism, and dared school managements to remove children from the rolls for non-payment of fees.

The APPACC has even said it will involve political parties and students’ unions and intensify the agitation. “Private schools are openly flouting the norms and continue to raise fees. There are cases where the school management has harassed parents and their children for not paying the hiked fee. Since a number of private schools are owned and run by bigwigs and friends and relatives of politicians, the government is not pursuing the case ardently,” alleged Mr Azher Mohiuddin, the president of the APPACC.

He also alleged that the school managements have been bribing ministers and officials in the school education department, which is the reason for the delay in bringing in a fee regulatory mechanism despite the Andhra Pradesh High Court’s orders.

November 11, 2010

Schools turn events into marketing stunts

HYDERABAD: The once small-scale school events have metamorphosed into mega events, creeping out of school campuses into stadiums and auditoriums, galleries or even hotels. Be it the school's annual day or an anniversary blast, the budgets of these celebrations are now in the range of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 20 lakh per annum. 

From renting sports stadiums to flaunting a few local celebrities and public figures in functions including annual days, the schools are ready to do it all to market themselves to future parents. In the past few months alone, a city school has organised a function at Gachibowli stadium spending Rs 55,000 even as another school is currently planning to book the same location for its 15 year anniversary to be held soon, the budget for which is estimated to be Rs 75,000. Another such event in the city was a musical event organised by a private school spending Rs 35,000 with professional singers from the city participating in it. 

But even as the managements are having a blast with these publicity functions meant to attract more students to their schools, it is the parents who are feeling the pinch with the managements seeking "contributions'' from students. Schools collect Rs 200 to Rs 1,000 per student to conduct these mega events. 

"Right at the beginning of the academic year, the fee collected is based on the expenditure of the school to hold such events too. The 10 to 30 per cent fee hike which is thrust upon the parents every year is the direct result of such events conducted by the school," a parent said. 

Parents also alleged that while splurging money on public functions, the schools do not take care of the interests of the students. "From Sanskrit Divas to Hindi Diwas the students are made to participate in all events in the school and we are forced to spend on costumes and food," said a parent. 

With schools actively celebrating every event , right from "Global Handwash Day" to "Say no to Drugs Campaign" on the roads, holding rallies to attract attention more to their brand than to the cause, the parents remain a disgruntled lot. 

Parents pointed out that there are some schools which hold mega events thoughout the year for publicity. These schools which have branches across the city and conduct at least 10 events in a month, starting from inter school painting competitions and debate competitions to stamp exhibitions, most of which are held in public venues like galleries. 

Meanwhile, students said that they often feel compelled to participate in the events. "In our school all the trips are currently study tours and it is mandatory for us to attend them. We are also supposed to participate in all the festivals be it Janmashtami or Dasara and these functions are held in Ravindra Bharati and not the school premises," said a student. 

Parents say with the state government not introducing a fee regulation act even after the High Court directed them to bring relief to the parents by regulating fees, they would have to continue funding school functions. 

(Times of India | Hyderabad | Page5 | 11.11.2010)

November 08, 2010

Parents protest fee inaction

Nov. 7: The issue of escalating fees in private schools has become a matter of concern, with these schools fleecing parents with their arbitrary fee hikes every year. In this context, various parents’ associations are up in arms against the state government over the inordinate delay in setting up a ‘Fee Regulatory Authority’ for private schools. 

These associations, such as Hyderabad Schools Parents’ Association and DPS Parents Association have now decided to take action by launching agitation programmes from next week, demanding the implementation of AP High Court orders on fee regulation. 

On August 27 this year, the High Court had made it clear that the government has the right to regulate fee structures in private schools. But more than two months since the judgement was delivered, little has been done in this regard. 

The government, which expressed its inability to regulate fees in private schools citing stay orders from the HC over the fee regulation orders issued in August 2009, has persisted with inaction even after those orders were vacated by the court exactly a year after they were issued. Since the stay orders were in force till August 27, the schools hiked their fees again in June this year at the beginning of the new academic year. Despite the parents lodging several complaints about the unreasonable fee hike, the government remained a mute spectator. 

However, government officials said they were still examining a copy of the judgement and that it would take some time before they came out with a suitable action plan.